If you believe some people, the NBA is as rigged and scripted as WWE and the fact that the league-owned Hornets won this year’s NBA draft lottery confirms that David Stern pulls the strings for every significant occurrence in this league. Let’s ignore how a team in San Antonio winning five championships in 14 years (you’ll see) fits into that narrative. If you believe the big brains behind HoopIdea — you know, the basketball experts who strive to save the NBA from itself — the scourge of tanking is what really threatens to destroy the sport we all love.

I’m neither for nor against tanking in the NBA, but I feel like the fact that the team with the worst record only has a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery means that the odds of blatant tanking paying off are low enough that we don’t need to get worked up about it. The 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats may have tanked harder than any NBA team has ever tanked, and what did it get them? Not Anthony Davis, that’s for sure. And it’s not bad luck that they didn’t win the lottery, because there was a 75 percent chance that this would turn out the way it did.

It’s not exclusive to the NBA, but it never ceases to amaze me how much people underestimate the importance of luck. Every year, fans of non-playoff teams who didn’t win the draft lottery lash out because they inexplicably feel like their team’s management should have known their team would have won the lottery if they had finished exactly where the lottery winner finished. This belief overlooks the fact that there are no guarantees in this life, aside from death and taxes. Anthony Davis is certainly the best prospect in this draft class, but there are a number of factors that could conspire against him having the best NBA career out of this crop of 2012-13 rookies.

There’s no question that you can’t win an NBA championship without a great deal of on-court skill and front office intelligence, but there should also be a complete lack of doubt that luck plays just as large a part in achieving that goal. NBA draft history is littered with “what-if” disappointments — Len Bias and Greg Oden come to mind — as well as the countless mid-to-late draft surprises who contributed significantly to multiple titles. The San Antonio Spurs would like to reintroduce you to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Clearly, tanking is not a strategy that should be encouraged in this or any other sport. But when somebody tries to tell you that tanking is some kind of perversion of the the true spirit of competition as well as a shortcut to “earning” success, make sure you show them Charlotte’s 22-60 record next season. Yeah, tanking worked out real well for them.

Comments (29)

  1. taxes aren’t gauranteed when you’re a pimp from space, like me. I win every draft lottery

  2. On your example, Spurs tanked for Tim Duncan who’s far more important to those championships than Parker or Manu. So tanking actually did work out fantastically for them.

    • I didn’t say that tanking never works. But that was 15 years ago. It’s debatable if it “worked” for the Cavs in 2003.

    • True, Duncan was #1 overall and more important. However, they didn’t exactly tank since David Robinson was injured & missed the season (only played 6 games), that got them that pick. Surprised you didn’t know that!!!

      • He was okay in the second half of the season by many accounts and they shut him down to go for that pick. Makes sense really.

        • Would you want your top-50 all-time franchise player to come out in a season where you have almost no chance at making the playoffs when he’s still recovering from an injury? Back injury + broken foot = bad news for athletic 7-footer. See the difference between how Portland handled Oden and him Phoenix handled Stoudemire. Taking chances v. not taking chances can be the difference between winning a title and just being a decent team.

          The Spurs shut down Tim Duncan for the 2000 playoffs even though he could have played because he tore some cartilage in his knee. 1-2 months more of recovery time than he would have had allowed him to rest and be 100% at the beginning of the next season.

    • David Robinson was legitimately injured that year, and he was basically the whole team. The Celtics tanked wayyyyyy harder than the Spurs did that same year in an attempt to get TD, and ended up stuck with the fourth and sixth picks (Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer, both of whom had been traded by the end of the 98 season).

  3. Tanking did save Golden State this year. Also, The Raptors chose T-Mac 8th overall! That automatically means that they will draft a once-in-a-generation offensive talent this year, which bodes well for the team.

  4. Who cares about tanking? I hate hoopidea so much. First of all, if you’re just going for the pick, it’s not a particularly effective strategy. You’re not very likely to get the top pick and even then it’s not every year that you get a franchise-changer.

    A lot of it is luck. Take the Kings, they’ve been in the lottery 16 times and only ended up with a top 3 pick 3 times (and they’ve had some BAD years). And the one time they got the top pick – it was Pervis Ellison.

    By contrast – the Spurs have only been in the lottery 3 times – all three times they landed a top 3 pick and two of those were number ones in years when there were total franchise changers (Robinson and Duncan, obviously). That’s incredible luck both on the perfect record in landing in the top 3 and in getting #1 picks in years when particularly great players were there.

    The Spurs have been extraordinarily fortunate, and they aren’t representative of how this usually goes.

    So just losing games for the pick isn’t effective. If a team is sitting down an injured player who could (and maybe would) potentially play in other circumstances, then its easy to accuse them of tanking but it also makes sense. Why risk that player doing more damage or delay their recovery when there’s nothing to play for?

    If it’s that they’re trading away their pieces to start over, then that’s not tanking, that’s just regrouping. You can’t be mediocre in the NBA. That’s the worst thing to be.

    If you really want to get rid of tanking – get rid of protected picks. In the case of the Warriors – that would have been effective. They actually had a real reason to tank and doing so was smart.

    Otherwise – who cares? We had a great NBA season and there was so much awesome stuff to talk about and instead truehoop was just flooded with hoopidea complaints about tanking and flopping. Sucks.

    • Well said. People who talk about tanking and flopping in basketball probably don’t like basketball that much.

  5. It didn’t help Columbus in the NHL either.

  6. After reading the first third of the opening sentence I thought this article was about NBA officiating. (Tim Donaghy = Danny Davis)

    As for the article, there’s a difference between scripting something and simply pushing it in a certain direction…there’s no difference in lying about either, however.

  7. With 10 games left in the season, take the 5 (or 6, or 7) teams with the worst record and have their record from then on out determine where they pick. Out of these teams, the team with the best record in the last 10 gets 1st pick, 2nd best record – 2nd pick, 3rd best record – 3rd pick, etc.

    Maybe not fair, but more fun than watching ping-pong balls getting tossed around in a washing machine.

    • That is a great idea :)) You still have bad teams, but at least they will play to WIN rather than play to LOSE for something.

      • that’s a terrible idea. you’ll just make sure that the worst teams stay bad.

        the system’s fine as it is. there’ll always be loopholes that will be exploited, since that’s kind of what humans do.

        also, not sure if the bobcats actually tanked, since they’re just terrible and weren’t going anywhere before, anyway. it’s not like they sat out their best players… sure, they tried to regroup and go for the lottery win, but the bobcats had their best team on the floor and still lost all the time. they kind of tried, they are just a miserable, depressing team that’s prolly going to suck for years to come.

        • So, if you wanted to make sure the worst teams got better, why bother with the randomness of the lottery? Just give first pick to the B’cats outright.

          • ..well, if you do that, you’ll actually make sure there’s tanking. but the way it is now, you may be rewarded for sucking, but you can’t be sure. it’s pretty clever I think. you better have some pieces in place, you can’t go all out on being terrible that way.

  8. I literally don’t understand how neutral fans could get upset about tanking. Most of the teams in a position to “tank” suck to watch anyway, and probably would have lost most of the games in question either way.

  9. Every now and then, a team will “tank” their season and it pays off, depending on what’s in it for the NBA. Case in point, the Cavs tanked their 02-03 season, and didn’t make a secret of it that they were doing so in an effort to win the lotto and draft Akron’s own LeBron James. then you have a case where the Clippers won the lotto in ’09, when I had thought, and was convinced that the OKC would have probably got it and drafted hometown kid Blake Griffin.

    Teams have learned the hard way, like the Celtics did in ’07. They thought they’d get that pick, only to be passed over by Portland. Luckily, they were able to get KG and Ray Allen.

  10. I did ask the Bobcats if tanking worked for them, and they said ‘Sure, we got the second pick. That’s better than every team except one.”

    So there’s that.

  11. can we just shut up about how much tanking sucks already?!? do you have any alternative that DOESN’T REWARD WINNING SINCE TEAMS WHO ALREADY WIN DON’T NEED A HIGH PICK? THAT’S THE POINT! geez… thanks @ TBJ for not blowing into the same stupid “tanking is the downfall of basketball” horn all the damn time. if you’re bad, you get a new chance next year. this is going to be exploited some time or another, but rarely for two years in a row by the same team, and all in all it’s a fair strategy and one of the best ideas to emerge in all of sport history. just ask european soccer fans (like me) if they would rather suffer through one season of tanking but getting the chance to soon be relevant again, or to just be stuck in misery for years and years and probably be relegated to a 2nd division at some point.

    look at the european system: all you get without a draft are dynasties (in good or bad, so to say). and a draft comes with the risk of tanking. so what.

    • 100% this.

      So much of the anti-tanking talk seems to be such pie in the sky nonsense. In an ideal world there would be no need to tank, yes. Good luck getting this to happen.

      The current incarnation of the draft lottery is the best attempt to help the dregs of the league who need a lucky break the most.

  12. Michael Jordan’s probably pissed

  13. Yes, Charlotte tanked.

    And yes, the NBA is losing credibility upon every close inspection with stuff like the league owned Hornets winning the lottery. You think the Bobcats would not have got their hopes up too high knowing the way the system works. Even if they had 70% of the balls in play they were never going to get that pick from Stern.

    Dismiss it as conspiracy. And then call Tim Donaghy and ask him what he thinks.

  14. I like* the suggestion that every team that lost a lot of games automatically “tanked”, or lost because they were trying not to win. I didn’t realize how good everyone was at judging the intent of a group of people without ever having had a conversation with them.

    For everyone who’s saying that “the Hornets winning proves it’s fixed”, please read this. http://deadspin.com/5914370/no-matter-who-wins-the-nba-draft-lottery-is-fixed


  15. Name one team who’s sales pitch for season tickets was, “We are going to field a terrible team this year and gun for the number one pick in the draft”. It never happens.
    For a team to blatantly suit up border-line nba talent on 1 year contracts is an insult to its fans and the league

    • what are you TALKING about?!? 1) if you’re a fan and your team sucks b/c of shitty 1-yearers, don’t fucking buy tickets! 2) if you’re truly a fan of your team, chances are you’ll understand anyway, or at least tolerate. ask skeets #tanknation

      PS also, this whole tank-talk is getting out of hand. what does “tanking” even mean? to sit your best players? to deliberately NOT play hard? to trade away non-franchise-level talent, gerald wallace style, in order to “regroup”? to just randomly suck? what does that make pre-BG LAC? Tank City? did the hornets tank because eric gordon was injured? does that mean that it was all sterns masterplan? is everything fixed? is there such a thing as a free will? do i take the blue or the red pill? etc.

  16. Also, I can’t express just how happy I am that New Orleans won this pick. Davis should thrive under Monty Williams. The Hornets tried their asses off every game long after it was clear that their season was going to end in the lottery and I like to think this is the basketball gods rewarding them for doing the right thing.

  17. Tanking should be renamed “The Team Management Flop”

    wait…that’s too wordy. How about “Suit Flopping”?

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